The One and Only Ivan

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The One and Only Ivan
dir Thea Sharrock
scr Mike White
prd Allison Shearmur, Angelina Jolie, Brigham Taylor
with Bryan Cranston, Ramon Rodriguez, Ariana Greenblatt, Owain Arthur
voices Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, Helen Mirren, Brooklynn Prince, Chaka Khan, Ron Funches, Phillipa Soo, Mike White
release US/UK 21.Aug.20
20/US Disney 1h33

rockwell jolie devito

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Ivan and cranston
A true story has been transformed into an old-school Disney adventure featuring a menagerie of talking circus animals who mingle with live-action actors using state-of-the art digital animation. Thankfully, Mike White's script is snappy enough to make this more engaging than expected, creating vivid characters while drawing in some pungent ideas in a way that's never pushy. And director Thea Sharrock skilfully deploys emotions without over-egging them.
In a small-town shopping centre, Mack (Cranston) is struggling to keep his circus afloat, needing to add some excitement alongside his star silverback gorilla Ivan (voiced by Rockwell). So he acquires a new headliner in adorable baby elephant Ruby (Prince), who bonds with veteran performer Stella (Jolie). But Stella's unwell, so she asks Ivan to care for Ruby and make sure she gets to live free outdoors. This makes Ivan rebel against his act, growling at audiences on cue. And Ivan really finds his voice through Julia (Greenblatt), who gives him tools to express himself.
The sentimentality begins creeping in from the start, with the introduction of the alert and smiley Julia and her kindly zookeeper dad George (Rodriguez), whose wife is unwell. Then there's the super-cute connection between Ruby and Ivan. Thankfully, there's a witty edge to the dialog that keeps things from becoming too syrupy. And it also helps that effects work is grounded and realistic, with the animals only slightly anthropomorphised through motion-capture performance and gently spirited voice work.

The vocal cast has a lot of fun giving these critters big personalities, anchored by Rockwell's soft-spoken, curious Ivan. His low-key personal journey is properly moving, and he's surrounded by scene-stealers like DeVito's scrappy mutt, Mirren's pampered poodle, Khan's harebrained chicken and Funches' nervous bunny. Meanwhile, Cranston brings some superbly hammy energy to Mack, a nice man who genuinely cares about his animals but has let things shift out of perspective. Stirring in more human heart, Greenblatt is smart and likeable.

In between the heartwarming and wacky moments, there are some thoughtful themes woven into the refreshingly unrushed narrative. Humans see animals in specific ways, so Ivan has to behave like an ill-tempered King Kong even though he's a big softie with an artist's soul. Indeed, in a flashback, he explores his earliest years drawing and playing with girls instead of acting macho with the boys. The subtext is clear, and even more powerful than the film's free-the-animals lesson. And it's accompanied by a series of big emotional hugs.

cert pg themes, violence 23.Aug.20

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